I’ve been looking at photos of myself. My friend Ellen Newman took them. I’m not playing out the Greek myth of Narcissus, who fell in love with his image in a pool of water. I need an updated author’s headshot for my new novel The Boy Walker, officially launching this February. Alas, like most people, I see images on screen that don’t match those inside my head.

Oh that we could all look like Hollywood stars! Of course, movies and TV are about illusion. The camera often loves our idols only after extensive assistance from hairdressers, makeup artists, costume designers, the occasional apple box on which to appear taller, and a cinematographer’s skilled adjustment of lights and camera angles.

Beauty of the soul is another matter. It’s found on the inside and requires some searching out. This takes effort. So we often drift towards what lies on the surface, deceiving ourselves that “what you see is what you get.”

I see a parallel with technology. Oh how easily we fall in love with bells and whistles. Millions of people can’t do without tech’s equivalents of the Kardashians and the housewives of New Jersey. Technology often seems to exist for its own sake. Anything that can be programmed must be worthwhile. “I exist, therefore I’m meaningful.”

Here in San Francisco, headquarters of social media, Heaven help those who don’t prostrate themselves to the gods of code. A recent article in the Chronicle explained that many adults take classes to relate to younger, twenty-something programmers. Said programmers can be quite dismissive of anyone who doesn’t speak their language. It’s like the old ‘sixties protest: “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” Lacking patience and basic communications skills, they turn off to their clients—the very people who pay them. This can throw a digital monkey wrench into the plans of anyone trying to get a website going.

Am I now an official curmudgeon in spite of using an (old) iPhone? Check out any restaurant. It’s a rare table at which one or more—or all—diners under thirty aren’t engrossed with their devices. Older folks, too. They text, tweet, comment on Facebook or engage with email. The world must know what they’re eating and drinking, and when they go to the bathroom. Right now! Rather than talk, they flash their screens at each other.

Ideally, technology makes communicating simpler by rendering physical distance irrelevant. Yet often it increases emotional distance. People seem increasingly challenged to converse face to face. It’s hard to engage a person whose device puts someone supposedly more exciting a click away. I’m reminded of cocktail parties where guests keep looking past each other to search out more enticing partners for sharing empty smiles and inane babble.

As to my author photos, I’m satisfied. Still, they’re just digital representations. For the real me—the real you—you have to dig deeper. This post—a somewhat long-form use of technology—can help. But it’s no substitute for meeting in the flesh, taking time and making the effort to really get to know someone. There’s just no app for that.

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  1. Ron Laupheimer on October 25, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    As usual, you have hit a home run with this blog. There should be some requirement that people have to turn off their devices before a meeting or any kind of event (meal, walk, show, etc.) or not be able to participate. Nothing is so important that it cannot wait a short period until there is a break or completion of the meeting/event. Despite the young people’s (and older folks also) incessant desire/need to IMMEDIATELY let everyone know what they are doing and IMMEDIATELY learn about what others are doing, what you wrote is right on—there is no app to have a real conversation with another person. Unfortunately, we are not doing that as often as in the past. That is our loss. Sometimes too much information is not good. This situation is one of them.

  2. Tracy on October 26, 2013 at 5:42 am

    Interestingly, not only has the spoken word degraded, but the written word as well. In an all out effort to multitask and pack ever more information into smaller places, we end up with horrifically busy web pages and a whole generation of folks who are completely unaware of the difference between “their,” “they’re,” and “there.” When called on it, the observers become grammar “nazis” which is pretty offensive to begin with, doubly so when the person called out replies with a variation of “it doesn’t matter, you know what I meant.” I’m not sure if I’m just becoming a dinosaur or witnessing the decline of Western Civilization.


  3. Ira on November 1, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    Very true and yes you are a curmudgeon!

  4. Carolyn Perlstein on November 1, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    Luckily you are handsome and very photogenic! I know because I married you.

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